Tricks To Make Your Hot Chocolate Healthier

Let's face it; hot chocolate is a crowd-pleaser no matter the time of year. On blustery cold days, when you need a quick pick-me-up, or on stormy summer nights — nothing is better than a warm, comforting mug of hot cocoa. Traditional hot chocolate is a richly decadent beverage, so the calories, fat, and sugar content can add up fast depending on the brand. For example, sipping one cup (or 248 grams) of hot chocolate mixed with low-fat milk and dry cocoa powder gives you a whopping 221 calories and 32.8 grams of sugar (per My Food Data). Luckily, there are simple swaps to make this cozy treat healthier.

Before tossing in your cocoa powder, it's important to choose the right milk for your health goals, whether you're plant-based or prefer good ol' cow's milk. If cow's milk is your preference, Food Network suggests opting for low-fat milk, since it has less calories than whole milk but still contains key nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and protein. When it comes to plant-based milk options (i.e. oat, almond, soy, or even cashew milk), Today recommends using brands that are fortified with vitamin D (or other vitamins), and contain zero additives and added sugars.

What else should you add to hot chocolate?

After you've selected your milk, skip the hot chocolate packets and mix in a generous spoonful (or more for an extra chocolatey boost) of natural cocoa powder (per Food Network). Don't worry about calories here, as one tablespoon is equivalent to 12 calories and 0.1 grams of sugar according to My Food Data. Not only is cocoa low in calories, but it's brimming with health benefits such as antioxidant properties; it even contains more antioxidants than green tea. Research from Cornell University shares that cocoa roughly contains three times the amount of antioxidants in green tea and twice the amount in red wine. This is because cocoa contains flavonoids, which help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and prevent cancer (via Everyday Health).

Even though cocoa is brimming with health benefits, it can be quite bitter depending on your taste buds, so you'll want to gently sweeten it. Aside from traditional sugar, some other great alternatives are coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, and monk fruit. However if you're wanting a sugar-free option, Food Network suggests using stevia or vanilla extract to amplify the sweetness factor.

Believe it or not, sprinkling in some spices can give your hot chocolate a powerful flavor and health boost. Cinnamon, for instance, adds a hint of sweetness and flavor, while also transforming your cup of cozy into a powerful fat-burning tool (per Time). That's probably why chocolate and a dash of cinnamon are often paired together.